On StoryLane, I was asked to answer the question "Was there a crucial political event that shaped your life?" I entitled this post as a paraphrase from George Washington's Farewell Address to Congress. I am an independent. I don't know when I first began to be an independent, it may be earlier than I realize. As such, I share here several memories that have shaped my political attitudes, especially in that spirit of independence from party.
One of my first memories, my first political memory is from when I was 4 or 5 years old. I know I wasn't older than five because I can clearly remember being downstairs and from the time of my 6th birthday to adulthood I never lived in a two story house. My mom must have left the tv on while she was working in the house and I walked through the living room and noticed a man on the tv. That man was President Ronald Reagan, and I remember thinking at the time that he seemed like a nice, good man. I have no idea what he was saying. I think that my lifelong interest in politics and political leadership probably began that day.
My next vivid political memory is from the Presidential Election in 1992. I was 9 years old and remember going to school with my fourth grade classmates and discussing the relative value of the candidates. We probably didn't have the strongest arguments for any of our positions, but then again is that far distant from most political opinions? I can clearly remember discussing who should be elected between George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and Ross Perot with my friend Silas Davidson during lunch time. I was a fervent Ross Perot supporter, although I couldn't tell you why now... Perhaps my parents seemed to like him. Anyhow, at nine years of age I was already exhibiting a fair bit of an independent streak.
As I aged I became a Republican at some point. I would come home from high school and turn on the O'Reilly Factor every day and was disappointed whenever Bill was on vacation and there was a substitute host. I had several books by Ann Coulter and Bill O'Reilly and found their arguments persuasive. To be a Republican in small-town Wyoming was no rare thing, but I was unusually interested in politics and economics. As part of our senior year we were required to participate in a mock legislature. We drafted bills, held elections for party leadership, and engaged in debate over proposed legislation. It was really a good exercise and valuable lesson in the mechanics of legislative government.
As I said, we held elections for party leadership in our little mock legislature and I wanted to be the Speaker of the House. The elections were about to be held and I believe I may have been the only candidate for Speaker other than Sarah. Mr. Kennedy, our high school principal and the instructor for our Government class, informed Sarah that she could not run for Speaker of the House because she was a Democrat (Democrats, of course, were the minority party in my home town). Sarah decided she wanted to be Speaker of the House so she switched parties. When it came to vote, my party voted for Sarah to be the Speaker of the House. It may not have been for the best of reasons, but at that moment I began again my journey towards independence. I was disillusioned by a party-system that was so shallow that members of my party would vote for a person to lead them who had, only moments before, been a Democrat. Strange, now I long for a political system where party loyalty would mean so little... As I paraphrased from our first president above, party politics are anathema to democracy in that they "render alien to each other those who ought to be bound together by fraternal affection." My high school class didn't care about party politics then, but I did. And on that day, I decided I was no longer a Republican, I was an independent. But I did it for the wrong reason, I was upset that there was no party loyalty, not realizing the damage that can be done in the name of said loyalty.
Finally, the political moment that was most crucial to my political life. I read the aforementioned Farewell Address to Congress by President George Washington. President Washington was the only U.S. President who was ever unanimously elected president by the electors. He was a man independent of party and he saw the damage that a two-party or even a multiple party system could have to the principles of democracy. I remember that the hardest class for me to take in my undergraduate studies was not difficult because the material was difficult to learn or understand; it was challenging to me because it taught that the two-party system was essential to our democracy. That is something that I feel very strongly is not true. I don't want a one party system or a multiple party system, I want a no party system. I want what President Washington wanted, a political system where we recognize our fraternal bonds while disagreeing on certain topics. I want a political system where people caucus not based on party but change their caucusing depending on topic. I want a political system where our leaders can reach an opinion on each legislative question independent of party and vote in accordance with the dictates of their conscience and their constituents rather than on the dictates of their party.
As I read George Washington's Farewell Address to Congress for the first time, I felt as though I finally knew where I fit in politically. I fit in with my own party, which sometimes coincides with the Democrats, sometimes the Republicans, sometimes the Libertarians or Greens, but where my ideals always fit in with me. I no longer felt the need to accept the opinions of others, from whatever source, without my own critical thinking over the topic. When asked about my political leanings, the one position I hold most earnestly is this, to take a phrase from Mitt Romney, I am fiercely independent. There are many political events that have shaped me, but reading George Washington's words have affected me more than anything.